Iowa Safe Schools executive director Nate Monson has been hearing more reports of bullying incidents in Iowa schools since the 2016 election. -promoted by Laura Belin
The end of August means the start of another school year. For many students, it is a time of reconnecting with their peers, teachers, and engaging in the educational process.
But for some students, school can be a terrifying experience because of bullying.
Bullying is when an individual or a group of individuals with more power repeatedly and intentionally cause harm to another person or group of persons. According to StopBullying.gov, bullying happens to one in three students in the United States. According to the 2018 Iowa Youth Survey, 39.3 percent of Iowa students have reported being a recent victim of bullying behaviors.
Bullying can result in lower academic performance and engagement in school while increasing rates of social isolation and depression. It is a major barrier for health and educational success of students in Iowa.
Anecdotally, I have seen an increase in bullying behaviors since the 2016 election. A constant are cases of white students telling Latino students that they will be deported. Trans youth remain afraid of using the restroom that conforms with their identity because of anti-trans rhetoric.
Before the 2016 election, I had never heard of anti-Semitic bullying taking place in Iowa schools. Now I commonly receive a phone call or email about anti-Semitic incidents. The “Trump Effect” is a very real and very dangerous phenomenon. I’ve defined the Trump Effect as a parroting behavior by individuals against people who are different from them. Bullying is on the rise and has real consequences for Iowa youth.
Iowa became the tenth state in the nation to enact a comprehensive anti-bullying law in 2007. This law is a wonderful foundation for schools, but as with any law, further success requires individuals to do the education and program implementation. Bullying will likely increase as the 2020 election looms and the hateful language gets worse. Concerned people need to do the work to help protect kids.
There are solutions to bullying, as well as effective prevention methods. A number of programs and strategies can assist with school culture and climate work, including Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports or Olweus. Within many school districts and Area Education Agencies, trained staff members can assist a school in implementing either or both of these outstanding programs.
A number of trainings are available through Iowa Safe Schools at www.safeschoolsacademy.org. Those materials can help individual educators or community members to better understand bullying and school climate needs.
The Third Annual Iowa Anti-Bullying Symposium is happening on October 4 at the Iowa Events Center in Des Moines. Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise and Iowa Civil Rights Commission Director Elizabeth Johnson will deliver keynote speeches. I hope anyone with a passion for safe schools for all students will join us at this event and build support in the state for this work.
The last thing I’d ask of anyone reading this: do something kind today. Go out and make today a better day for someone else. Bullying is a symptom of a larger cultural problem, which we can address at its core if we simply create a more kind and uplifting experience for others.
Nate Monson has been the Executive Director for Iowa Safe Schools, the state’s LGBTQ youth organization since 2007.
Top image: Cropped from a picture of queer kids saying the Pride Camp Pledge to a rainbow flag at the Iowa Safe Schools Pride Camp in July 2019. Photo provided by Iowa Safe Schools and published with permission.